Game at Miami was hardly day at beach for great '41 City team

John Steadman

December 23, 1991|By John Steadman

It was the most astonishing football dynasty this state ever knew. Baltimore City College had gone 55 games (six years) without defeat, and the All-Maryland team, on one occasion, had seven of 11 positions selected by players from that same high school. Loyola, Calvert Hall, Gilman and McDonogh asked to be excused, ever so politely, from being on the schedule.

Then came a Christmas night 50 years ago and perennial champion City finally met its master. It came via an invitation to play Miami High in a postseason extravaganza at the Orange Bowl. The Miami team was so good it had to go out of Florida to find opponents.

Where City was a ponderous, power outfit, Miami, known as the Stingarees, relied on speed. Before the bid could be accepted, it was necessary for the Baltimore school board to approve because out-of-state trips weren't considered in keeping with the academic goals.

The bowl sponsor would only pay expenses for 26 players. It was at that point The Evening Sun management notified Paul Broderick, then covering high school sports, that it wanted all members of the City squad to make the trip and would pay the cost. A grand gesture.

Miami had two players, Bruce Smith and Arnold Tucker, both of whom would face each other five years later on opposite sides of the scrimmage line while playing, respectively, for the Naval Academy and West Point. Both became career officers and earned numerous citations.

Adm. Smith (Ret.), speaking from Hawaii, said, "We knew about the Baltimore team having a great record. They were bigger and we were deeply concerned. We had the advantage of playing on a hot night."

Col. Tucker (Ret.) said much the same: "The score [26-0], as I remember, didn't reflect the abilities of the two teams."

But it was an occasion of clear domination for the Stingarees. Paul Menton, sports editor of The Evening Sun, had watched Miami in an earlier game and predicted it would win. Miami rolled to 324 yards to City's 126. "Had we played in Baltimore they still would have beaten us," coach Harry Lawrence said when it was over.

Paul German, a City center, remembers the event all too well. "I don't want it to sound as a cop-out, but our first team drove on them," he recalled. "And out second unit did, too. But each time we ran out of gas. We worked hard during a cold December in Baltimore on a frozen field. In Miami it was a pleasure to fall on that soft turf. But the heat was unbearable."

Fullback Tom Smoot agrees the weather was a factor but won't alibi, even if it is a half-century later. "Miami showed us more speed than we had ever seen in football. They had small, elusive backs. They played what was kind of a Southwest Conference style of quick-hitting, wide-open football and had a great coach in Jesse Yarborough."

For City, it was a memorable experience, coming at a time, 18 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the nation into World War II, when the mood of the country was depressed and uncertain. Lawrence, who coached City through its long winning streak, realized most of his squad would be headed for the military. One brilliant prospect, end Don Anders, sought by major colleges, never returned from sea duty. He lost his life on a submarine.

Lawrence went off to serve as a naval officer and City's football program never had the same domination. It's the recollection of Joe Pokorny that Lawrence wanted his team to enjoy the Miami trip and saw to it there was going to be more time for relaxation after the game rather than spending time there in advance so the emphasis wasn't entirely on football. That's why City planned its arrival only 36 hours before the kickoff.

"I remember that afternoon practice in Miami when we ran sprints," said Pokorny. "The sudden change from cold to intense heat sapped us. I know Harry Lawrence, going into the game, knew we were going to have difficulty. I think he may have expected what happened."

As a post-script, 50 years after the fact, the Miami players talk about their preparation. "Our final school period every day for the team was to study football and watch film," said Gene Autrey, a Miami standout. "Then we'd go directly to the practice field. And, another thing, it was arranged for some of us to graduate over a five-year period rather than four."

So Miami, within the rules, was able to do then what colleges are doing now -- "redshirting," or having the chance to play an extra season of high school football. City outweighed its southern foe 10 pounds per man but met up with what was then a new phase toward the modern trend . . . speed and finesse replacing power and strength.

The message was delivered on a Christmas night 50 years ago.

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